In Boy Erased, Lucas Hedges shows that his Oscar nomination was no fluke. As Southern boy Jared Eamons, he’s a good kid that seems to live on the periphery of his own life. He flinches when his girlfriend reaches for him (hiding behind the excuse of being decent and respectful), and finds it easier just to break up with her. Going off to college, he’s hopeful when he makes a new church-going pal as a running partner. But then he gets distracted by a billboard of a shirtless man. When Jared’s parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) get an anonymous call outing their son as a homosexual, they do what good church-going people do: take the advice of their community elders and send their son off to be “cured” by conversion therapy.
Love In Action, a Christian organization run by one Mr. Sykes (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed), could possibly have all the answers to put Jared back on track. An intense camp combining self-analysis and Bible-thumping, LIA’s theory is that your sin comes from your family, from your hatred of your father to the sins you’ve inherited from your family tree (from alcoholism to domestic violence to homosexuality and more). By confronting these sins, and listening to the word of God, you can be back on the path to the straight and narrow. That, or you may need the sin beaten out of you.
Holding the fear of God over the heads of those who already feel unworthy is a powerful tool. But Jared, whose own faith tells him this isn’t right, starts to question the methods. The key is whether his parents will see through the ruse of the organization and perhaps grow to accept Jared as he is.
Boy Erased is an unusual gay-themed film in that it addresses characters of faith without ever mocking them. Sure, Love In Action uses the Bible as a front for its methods (and profits), but this is in contrast to Jared’s home life with his loving parents (his car-dealer father also happens to be a preacher). As a family, they all initially think it is best (including Jared himself) to see if therapy can help, they are close as a family, and Jared doesn’t want to tear it apart. Crowe is good as the loving but staunchly religious father, but it is Nicole Kidman who shines as Jared’s preacher-wife mom. In her performance, you can see her struggle to align with her husband, while truly wanting what is best for her son. When things at LIA don’t go as planned, her inner mama bear quickly emerges. Boy Erased is a very well-acted film by all involved, but Kidman steals the show and truly moves you.